"I am petitioning for political asylum in Germany"
Statement of US-AWOL André Shepherd to asylum claim in Germany
My name is Andre’ Shepherd, and I was an active member of the U.S. Army before finding that my conscience would no longer allow for me to continue in such a capacity. I am currently absent without leave and am petitioning for political asylum in Germany.
I realize that there will be several questions as to why I decided to walk away from the Army, and more to the point, my country. In order to explain how I came to such a decision, it is best for me to start at the beginning. I signed up for service on January 27, 2004 at the age of 26. The reasons that I joined the military were numerous. At that time in my life I did not have any real idea as to where my life was headed. I received training in the computer sciences at Kent State University and upon leaving there I found the market saturated. I was told by several different firms that I needed at a minimum five years of work experience or a Master’s Degree before I could get a job. I ended up working in fast food for several years, and it was not very fulfilling. I wanted to change the world for the betterment of mankind, and working at a fast food restaurant was not exactly helping me to my goal. I also wanted to see the world, experience different cultures, meet new people and do something that I and my family would be proud of. I needed change.
In the summer of 2003 while walking by the armed forces recruiting center in my hometown, an Army recruiter poked his head out the door and asked me if I had a few minutes to spare. Having nothing else to do at the moment, I said sure and we went inside. After giving me some coffee and cake, he told me that I looked like I was someone who wanted to help people. I told him yes that is true since I am a very compassionate person. He then told me about how the Army needed people like me to help the peoples of the world combat the terrorists and dictators who have oppressed and terrorized helpless people throughout the world. He used Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il as examples and described the death and devastation caused by these men. He said that these men and others like them had to be stopped, and that the military needed strong capable people who would fight to keep freedom alive. I must admit I was taken aback by his words. It’s not every day that someone comes to you and asks you to help save the world. I must admit that I was very naïve at the time. It was a little less than two years after the September 11th attacks, and like the majority of the nation at that time, the desire to bring justice to those responsible burned within me. I also at that time still had faith in the government so I did not even consider that I was being lied to. I believed the Sergeant because of the look of conviction in his eyes. This told me that he really believed what he was saying. He then went on to tell me about the benefits of being in the service: steady pay, free housing, free medical care even after my discharge, paid education, paid travel, as well as 30 days of vacation. For a man who was down on his luck, this was a very tempting offer. However I was not ready to sign up yet because I did not like the idea of signing my life over to the government for eight years. He then told me that I did not have to sign up for eight years. He said that the Army had a new program where I could sign up for 15 months just to “try it out.” When I did not like it, when the time was up I could go home. I was not aware that the Army had the right to keep me past my enlistment through Stop-Loss, nor did I know that for the remaining six and a half years the Army can call me into service at any time under the Individual Ready Reserve. I would not find these things out until much later. He told me to go home and think about it, and then whenever I wanted to sign up, I can come back. So for the time being we parted ways.
When I returned to the recruiting office my mind was made-up. I found it a bit odd that the recruiters were surprised at my eagerness. They asked me jokingly if I knew that a war was going on. I guess they thought that one would have to be insane to willingly sign up under those circumstances. I look back on that time and feel great remorse for allowing myself to be so easily fooled. After re-assuring them that I wasn’t crazy, I took the military entrance exam and passed with the highest score possible - 99. Since I was able to do so well on the exam, the recruiters told me that it would be a waste of my talents to become a regular combat soldier, so I could have any job I wanted, which was not exactly the truth, as I would soon find out. I have a high affinity for adventure, so I naturally chose the profession of helicopter pilot. The recruiter told me that this wasn’t possible because only officers could fly. He said that in order to go to flight school I would have to work as a mechanic on the helicopters and then submit my application after two years of service. So, I chose to become an airframe mechanic for the AH-64 Apache helicopter. They also told me that I would get a $5,000 signing bonus for my enlistment. For any person wanting to get on the road to make their life straight, this was a huge selling point. After about three weeks of waiting and getting my personal affairs in order, I was ready to leave for Basic Training. At the time I was proud of my decision. I thought that I had all the things that would make my life more rewarding: a steady job, travel prospects, schooling, money, and the opportunity to be part of the elite ‘few good men’ that served their country with distinction. Little did I know that in as little as one year I would begin to see the price for these ‘benefits’ was not something I could bring myself to pay.
After arriving in Basic Training (BCT), I realized that I was no longer my own person. We were told and shown in many ways that we were just robots without a mind of our own whose very fate was at the mercy of our superiors. The Drill Sergeants, as with every other leader I have met in the military, emphasized again and again that the mission was more important than anything else, more important than family, friends, personal feelings and beliefs, or even common sense. Questions were not to be tolerated. Whenever someone did have a question, my superiors would respond that “the Army doesn’t pay you to think, only to obey.” It was here that I began to wonder just what it was I had gotten myself into. However I felt that after a while my doubts would go away and soon I would become a good member of the Armed Forces.
After I finished my BCT I began my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) where I was trained to repair the Apache helicopters. Here is a short description of this machine by the Military Analysis network:
The Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) (formerly Hughes) AH-64A Apache is the Army’s primary attack helicopter. It is a quick-reacting, airborne weapon system that can fight close and deep to destroy, disrupt, or delay enemy forces. The Apache is designed to fight and survive during the day, night, and in adverse weather throughout the world. The principal mission of the Apache is the destruction of high-value targets with the HELLFIRE missile. It is also capable of employing a 30MM M230 chain gun and Hydra 70 (2.75 inch) rockets that are lethal against a wide variety of targets. The Apache has a full range of aircraft survivability equipment and has the ability to withstand hits from rounds up to 23MM in critical areas.
This is an impressive machine indeed. Obviously it is not used for humanitarian purposes. For the time being I did not have any reservations about working on the Apaches simply because I still believed that only the “bad guys” and “terrorists” would have to fear this weapon. I believed that this weapon was infallible and that the pilots would never harm innocent people whether accidentally or otherwise.
Towards the end of my training I received my orders placing me with the 601st Aviation Support Battalion (ASB) located in Katterbach, Germany. The unit had just deployed to Iraq in early February 2004 for a year-long tour, requiring me to join them there straight out of training.
I arrived in Iraq approximately one day after leaving Germany and almost immediately went right to work. We worked twelve-hour days, six days a week to keep the helicopters flying. The men and women I worked with were good people who were dedicated to completing the mission as best they could. Officially they believed what they were doing was the right thing, bringing peace and prosperity to the Iraqi people and thus in the long term, helping to keep America “safe from terrorists.” At least that is what they would say when the commander was around. However, in private conversations I have heard many soldiers, particularly the younger ones, say they didn’t really know or fully understand why they had to spend a year so far away from home in a land that had no direct impact on their life. I began to share their sentiments, and started to feel uncomfortable in my job and wondered if all service members in Iraq were making a serious mistake. I started asking myself, why are we here, and what was our purpose? When we would bring workers from the local population to do odd jobs like build sand walls to defend our bases against attack, the look on their faces did not look like the faces of a population that felt happiness for their “liberation”. Some had the look of fear, while others looked outright angry and resentful. I began to feel as a cruel oppressor who had destroyed the lives these proud people. I began to feel confused and dirty inside but at this time didn’t know exactly why. Our unit did a lot of good things, giving schools books and bringing clothes to children and distributing aid to needy families. These actions helped my conscience a bit, but I kept thinking to myself had we not invaded, would these people need this aid now?
Around the end of November 2004 I started to research the cause of the War. Not just the Iraq War, but the entire War on Terror. It is my deep belief that war should always be a measure of last resort, and only in the event of self-defense. (It should be noted that I did not apply for conscientious objection status at this point because I did not know it existed until just before my unit’s second deployment. Until recently it was one of the best kept secrets in the Army and it is nearly impossible to get, which I will explain later.) I began to seriously reconsider the American position on the Global War on Terror, and I started to see serious inconsistencies between what we were being told were happening, as opposed to what was actually going on. For example, we were told that the initial invasion into Afghanistan was so that we could “capture Osama Bin Laden and to root out the terrorists.” However, I found several news articles stating that the war in Afghanistan was already planned as early as July 20011, a full two months before the September 11th attacks2. Another disturbing example was that the Bush Administration tried desperately to try to connect Saddam Hussein to September 11th, as well as shouting across the airwaves that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction that they wanted to use to attack America despite overwhelming evidence that these accusations were false. These revelations were not only shocking; they were down-right scary. This didn’t make any sense. We were taught as a nation of free people and the so-called leaders of the “free world” that we stand for freedom and prosperity not just for ourselves but for all people. On the surface it looked like we did a great thing. Saddam Hussein was admittedly a dictator. However he was not leading his country to produce any sort of weapon that could be used against the U.S. Government, not its citizens. When I asked my Sergeant about it he told me that many people in the Army also had questions, but it was their duty to serve. “We signed up for this voluntarily” I was told. That may be true, but signing up voluntarily does not mean I should stop thinking or having a conscience.
I decided to do more research when I returned from my deployment in February 2005. Since we had considerable time off from our Iraq tour I devoted myself to really study the subject. The problem was that the more I looked into the subject, the more uncomfortable I got. I spent a considerable amount of time cross-referencing and verifying the information that I was receiving, but I always arrived to the same conclusion: our military was being used as a tool for worldwide imperialism under the guise to spread “freedom” (i.e. control) to underprivileged nations, one bullet at a time. My entire world was turned upside down. All this time I believed in the integrity, honor, loyalty and justice of our Armed Forces. We were supposed to be the “good guys.” As an active member of the Army, I cannot be free from the guilt of having supported this war I was led to believe was justified.
My sanity and my self-worth began to plummet as I began to question how many people have I indirectly killed? How many lives have I aided in tearing apart? What would happen if someone did that to my family or friends? I cannot know for sure to this day how much devastation was caused by those gunships. I have tried to ask the pilots in my unit to talk about their experiences, but I was told that they are not allowed to talk about their missions because that is classified information. I was also stymied when I tried Internet research, as the military will not release rotary wing statistics. I am not alone as several reporters have lamented their frustration at having no access to these important statistics. Here is an excerpt from a news article written by Nick Turse on May 24, 2007:
“…minimalist figures regularly given out by CENTAF hardly offer an accurate picture of the air war in Iraq. When combined with the military’s evasive non-answers, they are also a reminder of what a dearth of information is actually available on even seemingly innocuous matters relating to the air war in Iraq.”
“...from January through April, I posed questions to a Coalition Press Information Center media contact—one "SSG Wiley." After being rebuffed on the topic of munitions expenditure, I asked, in January, about the total number of "rotary-wing sorties" flown in 2006. The aptly-named Wiley responded that s/he "sent it out to the relevant directorates and [was] awaiting a response.... I will contact you as soon as I get something." That turned out, despite follow-up, to be never. Following a March 30th query regarding "the relevant directorates," s/he entreated me, by email, to drop my request for information. Facing the reportorial void, I asked if Wiley would at least provide his/her full name and title for attribution in this article. S/he has yet to respond.”3
It is no secret that the Apache is a devastating weapon. When I looked at the videos of “suspected insurgents” being shredded by the machine guns or blown to bits by the missiles, I see the results of my handiwork. After combining that with the damage to the infrastructure, widespread poverty and disease, accidental deaths and millions of refugees I thought to myself: “Oh my god what have we done?”
I do not believe there is a worse feeling in the world than to believe you were doing what was right only to find out that you contributed to the spread of misery and destruction. This revelation had a terrible effect on me. I became depressed, started drinking heavily off duty, showed up to work late, and began arguing with my superiors on virtually every issue. I was asked many times what my problem was but I couldn’t bring myself to come out and say the truth: That I don’t want to be part of this anymore. Many people will ask me why I did not seek to leave the service earlier. The truth is I had an opportunity to do just that. Because of my bad behavior, in August 2005 I received an Article 15 non-judicial punishment and was threatened with removal from the service. I thought seriously about leaving then, however I was torn because I did not want to disappoint my family back home. I have never seen them so proud of me; particularly my father and I did not want to have to explain to them why I could not finish my contract. I thought I could just stick it out and wait for the end of my contract and leave the service honorably without making any trouble. For the short-term I stayed.
Things began to return to normal over the next 12 months. I continued monitoring the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and secretly hoped I wouldn’t be called to deploy again. I met many interesting people of German nationality who also understood the gravity of the situation. They told me that the German people had serious sentiments against the war. There were numerous German protests against the war since the beginning of the invasion, and the media and government expressed strong opposition to it. Things looked to go in my favor in early 2006, as my unit was re-activated as the 412th Aviation Support Battalion. This meant that there would be a long transition period between our old Army division and our new one, since we had to make a complete reorganization from the bottom up. With the time that it would take to accomplish this, I had figured we would not have to return to action for quite some time. Meanwhile in mid 2006 I changed jobs and worked as an office clerk for my Commander, so my chances for deployment were also greatly diminished. However, In January 2007 my unit had been put on the block to deploy in the summer of that year. At first I was told that I would not go to war because I was needed to take care of operations back in Germany, but then on April 1st, I was told that I will definitely go back to Iraq.
I started to explore my options. I had already decided after my last deployment that I would not participate in this illegal war a second time. I spoke with my Non-Commissioned Officer about my misgivings about the war and what could be done about conscientious objection. The answer I received was most troubling. I was told that it would take months for them to decide my claim. First, I would have to speak with a Chaplin and a counselor to verify my credibility, second to see a psychiatrist to give me a mental check-up, and then my claim would get sent to my commander to decide if I was qualified. I would have to disagree with all wars, not just the ones we know to be unnecessary and immoral as well as live a lifestyle according to my objections. I had to verify what he said, so I looked up the Army Regulations on the Internet so I could read them for myself. After studying the regulations carefully, I knew that this option would not work, as I still believe it is necessary to use force but only as the absolute last resort or for defense purposes. The other and more compelling reason that I did not apply for Conscientious Objection was the case of Agustin Aguayo, a man who was stationed in Wurzburg, just a train ride from where I was stationed. This poor man applied for Conscientious Objection and was sent to Iraq against his will anyway, even when he refused to carry a weapon in a war zone.4 He served eight months in prison in 2006 and 2007. His story shows the harassment and persecution a soldier would receive if they try to speak up about their beliefs. After reading his story I decided this was definitely not the path to take. The only two options left were either to go back to Iraq a second time, or to refuse deployment. This was the most difficult decision of my entire life. I knew that if I went back, I would be responsible for the deaths and misery of others on the grounds of a lie and I could not live with that. If I refused deployment, I could be tried as a criminal for desertion and face jail or even the death penalty for following my conscience. After ten days of deliberation, I decided to leave the United States Army on April 11, 2007. I grabbed what few things that I could, and left in the middle of the night.
Since that time I have been waiting until my unit returns from the Iraq deployment. The reason is so that if my claim is denied then I do not have the risk of being sent back to Iraq to take part in this war. More than one million people have been killed in this war so far, and more than two million are dispersed throughout the world, facts that I do not want to be responsible for. I fully understand the consequences for my actions. The military would charge me with desertion and I would receive a Court-Martial where I could receive a sentence from six months to several years in prison, with the possibility of death for desertion in a time of war. In spite of that, I will stand up for what is right and not allow myself to become an instrument of destruction.
It is perhaps fitting that I am applying for asylum here. The Nürnburg trials established that a person cannot defend his or her actions by explaining that they had simply been following orders. If I had stayed in the U.S. Army and continued to participate in the atrocities caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could not argue that I was just doing my job. It is here in Germany that the law was established that everyone, even a soldier, must take responsibility for their actions, no matter how many superiors are giving orders.
There have been many Germans who have called the war in Iraq illegal and immoral5. It would be logical to suggest then that soldiers participating in these wars are also doing something illegal and immoral. It is inconceivable of me to participate in the wanton destruction of life and property for the good of a few.
Recently the Americans have voted Barack Obama as the new President. He says he wants to put an end to the Iraq war and expand the war in Afghanistan.6 I cannot accept his policy for the simple fact that the Afghanis also have a right to decide for themselves how they wish to live their lives. The atrocities committed there these past seven years also cannot be discounted or forgotten. When he wants to provide real change then he must put a stop to this War on Terror completely, submit a public and written apology to the governments that we have wronged and be prepared to pay reparations for the damage and suffering our foolish acts have caused. He must then grant clemency for all the soldiers who had the courage to stand up and speak out for what is right. I pray he makes the right decision.
It is for these reasons, as well as the threat of undue retribution by the United States Government, that I am requesting asylum in Germany. This was not an easy decision, and the consequences of my actions will stay with me for the rest of my life. I have tried going through the normal immigration channels, but those doors were closed to me due to my unique status as an AWOL soldier. My desire to stay here is as much a personal desire as a political one. I have formed many good friendships here over the years, as well as forming a loving, stable relationship with my girlfriend and her son. I found solace being among like-minded people in an open society such as this, which not only opposes the imperial actions of an America gone horribly wrong, but openly supports those who wish to stand up for what is right. It is my understanding that this War on Terror will continue for many years to come. So long as this continues, I no longer wish to be called a citizen of the United States. It is my sincere hope that the reader understands the enormity of the situation, and carefully considers their decision.
2. US planned war in Afghanistan long before September 11, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/nov2001/afgh-n20.shtml
3. Our Shadowy Iraq Air War , http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2007/05/24/our_shadowy_iraq_air_war.php
5. German leader says no to Iraq war, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/aug/06/iraq.johnhooper
6. Obama Delivers Bold Speech About War on Terror, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Story?id=3434573&page=1
Statement of US-AWOL André Shepherd to asylum claim in Germany, November 27, 2008.